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Beckhampton Gallops and Witches Plantation

The Gallops, looking from Cherhill Down towards Beckhampton

The Gallops at Beckhampton has intrigued me for a long time. It is an expanse of land with mixed use, split between racehorse training and agriculture, and the whole of it can be seen from a northern ridgeway that rises up swiftly from the valley floor.

As with many areas in Wiltshire, it is filled with landscape markers of ancient history. To the south, the edge of the gallops is marked by the path of a Roman road that leads to Silbury Hill. There are multiple tumuli markers on the map and to the West we have Cherhill Down, with the Iron Age hillfort of Oldbury Camp. There are some well established rights of way that surround the Gallops, but the landowner does permit walkers to roam over it too - at least when the horses are not being trained.

In this article I'm going to take you on a circular walk around this space, which as usual will be punctuated with photos to bring the route to life. On the two occasions I did this walk when doing my research, I encountered few people, as some of these routes are not heavily used. To start, there is a good sized car park on the A4, just west of the roundabout at Beckhampton. From here you will follow a right of way to the North West, marked on the map as Wessex Ridgeway, or the Old Bath Road. This roughly follows the path of the A4, and was probably the original main road through these parts.

Wooded Copse, Knoll Down

To begin with you enter a wooded copse on Knoll Down, before exiting onto the exposed ridge, with sweeping views down into the Gallops, and in the distance, over to Cherhill Down where the needle of the Lansdowne Monument is clearly visible. Down to the left here, you can see the cultivated areas which in the summer are full of crops.

The Needle

You continue along this path until you hit a cross roads, then turn left, following a chalky byway that leads up to Cherhill Down itself. But we aren't going up to the down on this route, instead we will veer left and follow the contours around the edge of the Gallops boundary. It was here while walking along this very quiet road, that I came across the very quirkily named Witch Plantation. Another Wiltshire clump to add to the list.

Witch Plantation

Following the track, there are a few twists and turns until eventually you drop down onto the Roman road, which true to form, is very straight.

At this junction you get wonderful views across to Morgan's Hill and Furze Knoll, as your eye traces the road over to the West. But here, we will be heading back East, continuing to follow the edge of the Gallops.

Byway sign marking the Roman road route

Morgan's Hill and Furze Knoll

I don't know about you, but I can find long, straight roads that stretch into the distance quite tedious to walk on. But here, the distractions are plentiful. As you look to your right, you have an expansive view of the Pewsey Downs, which rise up from the A361. Look carefully and you will see the snaking Wansdyke, the mysterious medieval structure that leads all the way to Marlborough.

The Pewsey Downs and the Wansdyke

Then as the walk takes you over the brow of a hill, you see the road dropping down and forging straight ahead, with Silbury Hill in the distance.

The Roman road to Silbury Hill

Heading down this way, and once you see the Gallops open up to the left past the tree line, you can traverse the fence (carefully - there are few stiles where it is possible to climb over), and wander across the wide open land to get back to the car park. But as you do, take a bit of time to take in the fantastic views of Silbury Hill and Beckhampton from here.

Silbury Hill and Beckhampton

The Gallops

This walking route itself is just under 5 miles, and having done it twice now I can highly recommend it. Hopefully some of the photographs will inspire you to walk it yourself, and see these outstanding Wiltshire landscapes with your own eyes.

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Jul 27, 2021

Great read and pictures. Have run, walked and cycled these paths many times during last year's lockdowns.

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